How safe is the meat you’re grilling or ordering in a restaurant? Some people insist on ordering their steak well-done, even if they’re at the best steakhouse and seafood restaurant in town. It’s not only because they like the taste of it, but many of them say it’s because of safety reasons. They say that if the meat isn’t fully cooked, then you run the risk of ingesting bacteria that can make you feel sick afterwards.
But is that true? Is it dangerous if your steak is pink instead of truly well done? Do you risk your health when you insist on a rare steak? Let’s clarify the issue with certain facts:
For Beef, Pink Medium-Rare Steak is Safe
Medium-rare pink meat is actually safe, as long as we’re talking about beefsteaks only. Onsite studies have already confirmed this multiple times. What you have to understand is that bacteria (and E. coli in particular) mainly live on the outer surface of the steak. So when you grill your beefsteaks to a medium-rare level, you’ve made it hot enough to kill the bacteria outside the meat.
In fact, in these studies, it was discovered that any bacteria you may find on the meat once it’s cooked comes from the tongs and other utensils you may use with your meat. That’s usually because the tongs have touched the raw meat before it’s been cooked properly.
So to cook it to a proper medium-rare level, you have to use a meat thermometer and check that the internal meat temperature is 140° F. You then lay it to rest for just a few minutes, until it reaches 145° F.
Meanwhile, you can minimize the bacterial contamination from the tongs by sterilizing or washing the tongs between turns of the meat. This may be a tedious exercise, but then it’s better than suffering food poising after enjoying your steak.
What about Rare Beef Steaks?
Some people actually enjoy eating meat that’s almost bloody and raw. The meat hardly spends any significant time on the grill at all. Any kind of “done-ness” that’s below medium-rare runs a rather high risk of bacterial contamination.
Besides, rare steaks give you a great level of juiciness and tenderness while the center of the steak actually turns warm. It’s a bit off-putting when you put a bit of cold meat into your mouth. The fat in the meat also doesn’t get a chance to melt, and this is actually what makes a steak so flavorful.
How Do You Know How a Steak Is Done?
You can simply press the center of the steak with a finger to find out for yourself if the steak is medium-rare already. If the steak sinks a little bit and then springs right back, it’s already medium-rare. If it feels mushy and soft, it’s still not done yet. But if it feels firm or hard, then you’ve entered the medium level of doneness.
What About Ground Beef?
Pink meat may not be all that safe when we’re talking about ground beef. That’s because ground beef is processed through a blender. So the bacteria can go from the outside and into the inside.
When you’re dealing with ground beef, it’s best to play it safe and just cook it up to 160° F. That should take care of any bacterial presence inside and outside the beef.
The same goes if you’re mechanically tenderizing the meat with pins or needles. You’re also pushing the bacteria from the outside into the inside of the meat. So again you need to cook the meat to 160° F.